It's the big one! Rugby Town at North Shields in the FA Vase 5th round on Saturday

By Jon Venner

Ash Bodycote was Rugby Town's penalty shoot-out hero against Stourport Swifts in the third round   PICTURE BY MARTIN PULLEY
Ash Bodycote was Rugby Town's penalty shoot-out hero against Stourport Swifts in the third round PICTURE BY MARTIN PULLEY

The scene is set for the next leg of Rugby Town’s 2021/22 FA Vase adventure, when Valley make the long trek to North Shields for this Saturday’s fifth round tie.

With around 150 supporters estimated to be joining manager Carl Adams and his squad in Tyneside for Rugby’s biggest cup clash for many a year, the anticipation has been building since the draw pitted Town against a side many have tipped as favourites for this year’s competition.

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Adams reflected on the weekend’s match-up: “There’s definitely a feeling of excitement in the dressing room and around the club as a whole.

“We said from the outset that we will have no fear and we are looking forward to getting up there and having a real go at it.”

Both clubs are previous winners of the Vase, with Saturday’s hosts triumphing at Wembley seven years ago and Valley of course famously lifting the trophy back in 1983 after their 1-0 victory over Halesowen.

Adams continued: “I accept that we are regarded as underdogs for the game - mainly due to the fact that northern clubs have done well in the competition over recent years, but at the end of the day both teams play at the same level of the pyramid and our form over the past four or so months has been very good.”

If Rugby are to earn their place in Monday’s quarter-final draw however, they will have to do it without the services of their skipper Loyiso Recci after the defender limped off with a fractured metatarsal towards the end of last Saturday’s UCL Premier 3-2 victory over Bugbrooke St.Michaels.

Danico Johnson had given Town a half-time lead at Butlin Road, before Adam Shaw doubled their advantage on 57 minutes.

With Valley appearing to be coasting to a 19th success in their last 21 outings, the visitors then pulled themselves back level thanks to an Ed Panter penalty and an Ash Bodycote own goal.

However, David Kolodynski struck the winner virtually from the restart following the equaliser, as Town pulled level on points with third placed Newport Pagnell in the process.

Adams reflected on the prospect of being without the influential Recci, who had previously been an ever-present in the side this season: “It’s a big blow for sure, but we do have Jamal (Clarke) to come back in to the defence.

“It’s particularly frustrating, as I was about to withdraw Loyiso when we were two up, but decided to keep him on when Bugbrooke scored their first and then to compound matters we had to play out the game with ten men after he got injured as we’d made all our subs!”

A four-figure crowd is expected at Shields’s Daren Persson Stadium on Saturday, where Town are likely to find a partisan and intimidating atmosphere waiting for them.

Adams is confident his men will rise to the challenge though. He concluded: “We’ve had them scouted and think we know what their strengths are and how they like to play.

“We also know what to expect with regards to the crowd, but we do have plenty of experience out there and I believe we will be able to cope with it on the day.

* At the time of going to press, there were still a couple of places left on the main supporters coach to North Shields on Saturday morning. For the latest status, please contact Martin Defferd on 07792 563135. The coach will pick-up from Rugby School at 8am and from Butlin Road at 8.15am.

And a few more of Jon Venner's facts and figures about the big occasion...

* The North Shields Ralph Gardner Park ground is sponsored by a local Funeral directors and the resultingly-christened Daren Persson Stadium is affectionately known as “The Morgue” by its hardcore supporters.

*Visiting players and the match officials should expect a hostile welcome from the North Shields fans, with one highly-respected North Eastern football journalist explaining: “They will try to relentlessly wind up the opposition, the referee and their assistants.”

He amusingly continued: “I was at a Vase game there a few years back when one of the North Shields supporters turned up with a large fresh haddock and duly proceeded to attempt to slap the lineman with it!”

* The preparations of this Saturday’s hosts took a hit at the weekend though when they suffered a rare Northern League defeat, going down to a solitary goal at mid-table Seaham Red Star.

The loss was only their third league defeat of the 2021-22 campaign, and it saw them slip down into third place in the rankings.

* If the Fifth Round fixture ends all square after the initial 90 minutes, there will be no extra-time and instead the tie will be decided on the day by a penalty shoot-out.

In their six games in the Vase this season, North Shields have had to rely on a spot-kick decider three times already, whilst Town have only once progressed via this method in their Third Round match at Stourport, when three saves from Rugby keeper Ash Bodycote helped see them through.